Carolina Panthers film room: What went wrong against the Eagles

(Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports) Chuba Hubbard
(Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports) Chuba Hubbard /

87. Final. 21. 54. 18

Taking a look at the game film, what exactly went wrong for the Carolina Panthers in their Week 5 loss against the Philadelphia Eagles?

It takes a village. Win, or lose.

Sporting a 15-6 halftime lead on Sunday, the Carolina Panthers continued to struggle as a third-quarter team. Their seemingly cozy lead evaporated, as the Philadelphia Eagles stormed back from 13 down to hand Matt Rhule’s young, hungry (but flawed) team a stunning 21-18 home loss.

Somewhat surprisingly, Rhule took out his frustrations on the defense in his Monday presser, who didn’t deserve any real blame at all.

"“A lot of the questions will be about the offense, but if you have the lead in the fourth quarter with the players we have on defense, we should never lose.”"

Defensively, the Panthers generated a pair of turnovers on consecutive snaps, limiting Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts to 3.3 yards per rush attempt and 5.4 yards per pass attempt, both season lows for the former Oklahoma star.

Offensively, the Panthers were done in by an all too familiar theme: QB inefficiency and inept pass protection. Sam Darnold threw a trio of ugly interceptions and never looked comfortable.

Carolina’s new-look offensive line was a disaster, as long-time right tackle Taylor Moton looked overwhelmed on the left side.

Third-round pick Brady Christensen made his first career start in Moton’s traditional right tackle spot, and struggled at times against Philadelphia’s combination of stunts and power edge rush.

Carolina Panthers looked lost on the interior OL.

On the interior, the Panthers appeared to be lost.

Left guard Dennis Daley and right guard John Miller yielded a combined 10 pressures and three sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. Veteran center Matt Paradis wasn’t without his flaws, yielding three pressures of his own.

Moton, who started his first game at left tackle since Carolina’s season opener in 2018, found life difficult in terms of anchoring against power rush moves.

On the first of Darnold’s three interceptions, Moton gets the bad end of Eagles defensive end Derrick Barnett’s bull rush. Check the tape below.

Despite the backside pressure, Darnold still has a pocket from which to climb. The route concept, near side, is known as “smash”.

This combo is designed to influence voids against zone coverage, with the curl and flat routes pulling coverage underneath the accompanying corner route – as run by TE Ian Thomas above.

One problem, these routes concepts don’t work if:

  • You can’t protect the quarterback.
  • If the quarterback has a history of relatively slow processing.

Darnold, pre-snap, doesn’t appear to have his eyes on the rotating FS (far side), and as the former USC star scans to his left post-snap, it’s hard to imagine he’s fully anticipating the angle and urgency of the safety en route to the boundary.

He’s already looked off the smash concept (to his left), and rather than anticipating a razor-thin window over the head of Darius Slay and climbing the pocket for additional options, Darnold uncorks a low-percentage boundary ball.

Slay’s coverage depth is optimal, and he makes a nice play.

It was another day of bad situational football from the Carolina Panthers.

This is bad situational football.

Leading by three, backed up inside your own five-yard-line, and a high-risk, low-reward throw. The line has been bad (we’ll get to that), but this pick was on Darnold.

Now, about the offensive line.

Yes, I know. It’s bad.

Carolina is fielding one of the least coordinated groups upfront in franchise history. Philadelphia didn’t do anything exotic. They knew they didn’t have to. A few stunts, and that’s about as wild as Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon got.

Christensen was raw, and that’s to be expected. Here’s a great example of how one mistake, a holding foul, can ruin a drive – perhaps a game.

Instead of a fresh set of downs, with the ball inside the Eagles 45-yard-line, the rookie right tackle pulls defensive tackle, Milton Williams, to the ground.

Mistakes beget mistakes, as seen below on the following play:

The route concept on 2nd and 12 was “mirrored curl flat”, in which the two receivers, from reduced splits, mirror one another with a pair of deep curls.

You also have the tight end (Thomas) and the Y receiver (Brandon Zylstra) running to the flat, with rookie running back Chuba Hubbard filtering into the middle as a check down.

Curl/Flat is a classic “Cover 3 Beater”, with the first read typically to the flat.

If the flats don’t feel like a good option, you’ll likely find one of your two curl routes sitting in a reasonable void. To the closed side of the formation (near side), Robby Anderson is on top of the box safety, and Thomas’ presence in the flat holds the SAM backer shallow.

This should influence the box safety just enough to create a tidy throwing lane to Anderson.

By that time, Darnold, feeling pressure again, was already “hitting send” to D.J. Moore.

This interception opened things up for the Eagles, closing the game on a 15-3 run. With less than five minutes to play in the fourth quarter, Darnold and the Panthers’ offense couldn’t convert a 3rd and short, as the signal-caller’s sprint pass to Anderson was wide right.

The Eagles blocked Carolina’s subsequent punt, cashing in on an unbelievable field position gift.

Four plays, 27 yards later, Philadelphia took their first lead of the game as Hurts found the end zone on the ground. The two-point conversion stretched the lead to 21-18.

Carolina, stunned, took over at their own 25-yard-line, down three, in a game they had dominated for much of the afternoon. Darnold showed some signs of life, pushing it close to midfield on a nice 3rd and 15 connection to Anderson.

One play later, the offensive line, bad all day, completely deflated Carolina’s momentum. Miller was called for holding, backing the Panthers up to their own 35-yard-line.

Then, this happened:

The Panthers fall to 3-2 and are still a relevant, competitive football team. Winning close games isn’t easy.

The best cure: don’t keep teams in it.

Must Read. 5 trade targets for the Carolina Panthers to consider before 2021 deadline. light